A trip to Bondi Beach is one of THE things to do if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s the nearest/best beachfront neighborhood to downtown Sydney and while the train doesn’t go the whole distance, there’s busses almost every five minutes to take you the rest of the way. That said, this is my SECOND year spending a few weeks in this neighborhood, so I’ve decided to update this post more than a bit, rather than do a 2nd post on the same subject
What most people miss when they come here are all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia. For instance, the fact that almost every seller of Jewelry have stars of David for sale, as well as Chais, and Hamsas. Of course the latter, isn’t really a Jewish item as such, but rather a symbol that has been traced all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, that is used by all the various religious groups of the area, and is sometimes referred to as either the hand of Fatima (for those who don’t know, the favorite daughter of Muhammad), Mary (Jesus’s mother), Miriam (sister of Moses), or just ‘the goddess’… But of course the evidence goes deeper than that.
This is now my second year of spending a few weeks in Bondi. Like I said in a previous post, the first time I came to Australia it was a fairly last-minute decision. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.
Now granted, on the day when I first arrived I didn’t know this… and my friend isn’t Jewish and was utterly oblivious to stuff like this, so he didn’t know either. Anyway, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases) we walked (suitcases in hand) to an eatery called Savta Cafe, which he said was supposed to be good. I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t trigger to the fact that Savta was the Hebrew word for grandmother. That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.
That said, it was not the best I’ve ever eaten (the excessive use of mushrooms confused me) but it was ok… After that we lugged the suitcases to his rented a ‘room in an apartment’ (but not an Airbnb) in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link].
But ONE Israeli cafe does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…
For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach, aka the Messiah, a concept that should not be confused with Jesus/Christ … even if the Chabad-Lubavitch (who can be referred to with either term) are the most Catholic of Jews — a concept too complex to explain here… at least until Schneerson died.
To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family friend and cardiologist, Ira, (until he retired) who was flown in to also be part of Schneerson’s medical team before he died because Ira is widely recognized in the Jewish community not only as one of the best cardiologists in the country but also a Tsadik (a righteous man). [Personal story…. Ira came to my father’s funeral. After the service, he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to have been out-of-town during my father’s final days — and hence unable to help him personally, but told me that he called in regularly, and had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. The reason Ira is considered a real man of G-d, is because instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives on the days when most doctors prefer to stay home.]
Anyway, the VERY public display of the Rebbe’s picture on the side of a home (see above) made me realize there must be Lubavitch in the neighborhood… but what I didn’t realize until I had actually been there a few days and explored the place was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation
AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek … (when looking at these maps, please note all the OTHER Jewish institutions that Google popped, assuming they were also of interest to me, when I searched the synagogues’ names
AND The Sephardi Synagogue
AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House
In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment!!!! (Not to mention a bunch of other Jewish institutions)…. For those who are not Jewish, in all of Orlando Florida, I think there are maybe four synagogues scattered throughout the entire metropolitan area… miles apart (driving distance). Only THE MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods, the ones where there are all sorts of guys walking around dressed like Jews (which the vast majority of Jews do NOT do) … have this many synagogues so close together…. (Orthodox Jews aren’t supposed to be exerting themselves on sabbath — day of rest — and they can’t ride on cars, busses, or on horses either for that matter … so they have to live an easy walking distance of their temples … which, unfortunately, made it easy for the Nazi’s to round them up… but that’s a different issue.) Speaking of my oblivious travel buddy… by the end of our few weeks in Bundi (a place mind you that he’d been to a thousand times before) I was finally able to teach him how to identify orthodox Jews by their tell tale clothing choices.
The next thing I discovered in Bondi was that there were actually quite a few Israeli restaurants, alongside Turkish and other middle eastern ones, which are also popular in the area.
The above restaurant is, Sabbaba (Hebrew slang, derived from the Arabic word tzababa, meaning “cool”, “great” or “ok”)– and not only did it have a COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel, it’s a drink that the early Russian/Jewish settlers to what is now Israel brought with them from the slavic countries) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but based on my experience the only one that had the Malt Star was in Bondi … which says something about this outlet’s clientele
About a block or so away from that I found a third Israeli place, called Lyfe Cafe (Life with a Y, again, think of the common Jewish Chai symbol often worn in place of a star of david — which means life) again the owner was an Israeli (and again, I spoke Hebrew with them) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.
While eating at Sabbaba the first time, I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd” located RIGHT across the street from them, which I later learned was an ALL Kosher butcher, that cuts its own meat, while serving the diverse clientele that lives in Boni.
and just a shop or two down the street from that I found “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish/Australian souvenirs to give as gifts to friends, and of course for myself…
Specifically they had fusion Jewish/Aboriginal Australian items, like the above kippot (about $18 USD each… over two years I think I bought about 16 of them, because everyone I had given one to GREATLY appreciated them), as well as Challah Covers.
During the few weeks I spent in Bondi on my visit a year later I came across Katzy’s Food World, which I didn’t realize was a Kosher restaurant till I got inside, located sort of Kiddy corner from Sabbaba.
This is a fleishig, or meat restaurant — note the chicken, burgers, and the ‘Reuben’ sandwich without Swiss cheese, and mayo instead of Russian dressing (WTF PEOPLE!!! THAT IS NOT A REUBEN!!!) on the menu?
When I was there, trying to decide what to eat, the girl working behind the counter told me that Katz’s for instance is FAMOUS for the kosher Aussie meat pies — which is sort of a laughable statement if you understand it, in large part because it’s one of the VERY few places in the whole country that has Aussie meat pies made with Kosher meat, in a kosher kitchen… and hence if you keep kosher and want to try an Aussie meat pie… this is most likely where you’ve gotta eat it. (They even serve sausage rolls… which I have a feeling are more ‘pigs in a blanket’, i.e., all beef hotdogs in pastry… than sausage rolls, because there’s no such thing as kosher pork.)
because of the dietary restriction of mixing meat with milk Kosher restaurants tend to serve one or the other but rarely both… Falafel falls into the parve category, being made from neither meat nor milk/dairy products. The mom in the above picture is clearly just back from taking her kids to the beach. From what was happening, it was clear the kids had been given ice cream while there (milk) and she wanted to get them a mid-afternoon snack but it couldn’t be meat because not enough hours had passed since they’d eaten the milk meal (seriously… there are rules to ensure that the meat and milk don’t even combine in your belly.)
IF an Israeli restaurant is Kosher (which is NOT a given) then it will have falafel and meat, or falafel and cheese, but not both…. The restaurant called Sabbaba does have both (milk and meat dishes) and as such while it’s Jewish/Israeli it is NOT someplace the Jews who keep Kosher would eat at (I on the other hand will happily eat there) …. if you ever go to Israel you’ll quickly notice that NOT all the food served there is Kosher… if it is there’s be a HUGE OBVIOUS, you can’t miss it, sign over the door advertising the fact in no uncertain terms. In places like Bondi the kosher status tends to be far more subtle but Jews who care know what to look for.
While at Katz’s I tried their Matzah ball soup. It was ok… my father made better. The “trick” to REALLY good chicken soup is you boil the WHOLE chicken, feet, beak and all, which this place did not do — the taste and texture difference was obvious. If you don’t add those ingredients, the soup tends to have a sort of weak flavor and consistency. The feet are what provides pectin (the basic ingredient of jello back when it was made from from bones and such, rather than today’s chemicals), and those things are also what gives a sort of super saturated chicken flavor. Today… when most grocery stores don’t even have the feet to sell you… folks rely on bullion cubes to provide them with that flavor — because they’ve forgotten what it was about grandma’s soup that made it just… well better.
Finally, Not only did I find Krinsky’s, the largest kosher grocery store in Sydney (it’s the size of a small Kosher market in Chicago), during my 2nd visit, but up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found an absolutely MASSIVE (for a non-kosher market) kosher section